A sleep disorder is a clinical condition whereby a person experiences disrupted or poor quality sleep on a regular basis. Depending on the type of disorder, the quality, duration or timing of sleep may be affected.
Getting restful sleep is important as it allows the body to rest and repair itself. Most adults typically need an average of 6 – 10 hours of sleep daily. Children need more, while the elderly tend to awake more often and have less deep sleep.
Having a sleep disorder affect one's ability to function properly in the day. It also has a negative impact on both physical and mental health, work performance, interpersonal relationships and safety. Left unresolved, sleep disorders result in a reduced quality of life and increased chances of disease and death.
Sleep disorders span a wide spectrum. Common sleep disorders include:
Insomnia is when you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. It can be acute, lasting from one to a few nights, or chronic, when it happens at least 3 times a week for a month or longer. Insomnia happens more frequently among older adults and women.
Sleep apnoea is a serious condition where your breathing is interrupted or stopped repeatedly during sleep due to a blocked airway. You may wake up gasping for air because your body is trying to take in more oxygen, or find yourself suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness.
There are 2 types of sleep apnoea: obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which is more common and caused by physical obstruction of the upper airway, and central sleep apnoea (CSA), which occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Narcolepsy is characterised by excessive daytime sleepiness and/or uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep as you go about your daily activities. It can also cause sudden muscle weakness and sleep paralysis, where you are unable to move just after waking up.
Restless leg syndrome refers to an intense, irresistible urge to move your legs, usually when you are lying in bed or sitting down for prolonged periods of time. It tends to happen at night, making it difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Parasomnias are sleep disorders that cause abnormal behaviour while sleeping. These can range from sleep talking and sleepwalking to teeth grinding (sleep bruxism), night terrors, confusional arousals, and sleep paralysis.
These vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the disorder. If you have a sleep disorder, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
Speak to a doctor if you feel tired even though you think you're getting enough sleep, or if your sleep problems are affecting your quality of life.
It can be hard to pinpoint the specific cause of a sleep disorder. In some cases, the sleep disorder is actually a symptom of another health problem you are having, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism. Such sleep disorders tend to resolve themselves once the underlying medical condition is treated.
On the other hand, chronic sleep disorders may be caused by a combination of stress, mental health issues, ageing, lifestyle or environmental factors. These include:
You are at higher risk of developing a sleep disorder if you:
Sleep disorders have been linked to various complications and medical conditions such as:
While some sleep disorders are caused by underlying medical problems, others may be prevented by modifying your lifestyle or adopting good sleep hygiene habits. Tips to improve your sleep health include: